An open letter about food safety in Samoa
Andy Sevao, a Samoan resident in Seattle, Washington, USA wrote me a letter not long ago.
He was responding to my article published in the Samoa Observer titled “Foreign object plus in in our food.” He said that he share my views with regard with to the status quo of Food Safety in Samoa. Adding that it was very enlightening and supportive for which is very much appreciative.
Moreover, he wrote: “Me and my family had the opportunity to see at close range the unacceptable practice of food handling, preparation and service while we were vacationing in Samoa.”
I answered to him: “I am glad you have “digested” the importance of my article and wholeheartedly agreed on the appropriate action that should be taken by the Ministry of Heath to straighten up the prevailing situation.”
The above comment (among others as far away as Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) was made to my other article, also, Cockroaches in our food?
Is it the M.O.H’s job to protect the public from bad food and beverages?
And the toilets mess to boot? In a talk with the Ministry of Health, and Agriculture, the consensus is that they do not want “to rock the boat” as enunciated to one of my friends, and that is my sincere impression after a 35 minutes talk.
Realizing the severity of our food safety condition the former Minister of Health placed an ad in the Observer last July, and again in December 2010 requesting a local consultant to train the hospital personnel in matters of food safety nationwide. Delighted with the nature of the consultancy, I applied for it. Having done that job for 15 years in the USA I felt qualified to handle it. So far, not a word from them. Of course we need to improve the food safety in Samoa. Not only that, but the infrastructure that goes with it. This is the legislation enacted by the Samoan government and the year it was enacted:
• Restaurant Regulation……….1942
• Health Ordinance…….........…1959
•Agriculture and Fisheries Ordinance………...................……1959
• Animal Ordinance….....………1960
• The Food and Drug Act…..…..1967
• Plant Act…….................……….1984
• Fisheries Act……...........………1988
I suppose these laws are still in force, dating back from 23 to 69 years ago. No wonder we can’t convince the U.N. of our present status of a LDC. Yet we can boast of a wall to wall TV screens and thousand tala cellular phones and Prado for our Ministers. Moreover, I would like to take a peek at the job description of our Associates Ministers. With such a well staffed Cabinet, our country won’t have troubles for a smooth running for the next lima tausaga, or will it?
STATUS OF OUR RESTAURANTS
I am still not shaking myself of the habit of taking a look at the sanitary conditions of the restaurants I have had the chance to look at some with the permission of their owners This is what I have found out. By all means I call them deficiencies even though some restaurants owner may think that is the way to serve the public. That is why the public must press the MOH to play the role of Big Brother right along with public health conscious restaurant owners.
Here are the following deficiencies, not applicable to all and in no particular order. You the paying consumer judge.
• Absence of hot water. A must if you handle food for human consumption.
• Absence of a sink for the exclusive use of washing /sanitizing hands of employee.
•Definitely presence of cross-contamination in an out of the refrigerator/cooler/freezer.
• Absence of freezers (the main hospital didn’t have one) only refrigerator/cooler.
• Presence of open buckets/containers of garbage/cooled food residues in kitchen area.
• Mopping buckets and handles in the food preparation area.
• Greasy pot, pans, and utensils.
• No chlorine solutions to dip fresh vegetables.
•Poor personnel hygiene, no hair restraints – no gloves to handle exposed food.
• No aprons to cover street clothes.
• Concrete floors with no drains, plywood walls, no roof in some.
• Cooked food warmer was not kept at least 1600F (71.10C)
• Unclean counters and tables where food is prepared.
• Toilet facilities without hot water, soap and toilet paper.
• No Health Certificate of personnel visible on walls or offices.
• No Pest Control Certificate visible on wall. And so on.
What I am trying to say by these deficiencies is that whoever gave a license to operate these so called restaurants does not fully understand the implication of serving food for human consumption.
Here to quote our Mr. Sevao again: “Anyone who has been in the hotel/hospitality/food business long enough knows that when it comes to food safety there is simply no compromise.” Amen!
Studies in developing countries have shown that up to 20-25% of household food expenditure is incurred outside the home, And some segments of the population depend entirely on street foods, These ready-to-eat foods and beverages are prepared and /or sold by vendors or hawkers mainly in streets or other convenient public places such as places of work, schools, hospitals, bus terminals, fairs, sport events. etc.
Food safety is a major concern with street foods. These foods are generally prepared and sold under unhygienic conditions, with limited access to safe water, sanitary service, or garbage disposal facilities. Hence street foods pose a high risk of food poisoning due to microbial contamination, as well as, improper use of food additives, adulteration and environmental contamination.
“Handling foods with dirty hands is asking for trouble” Wash your hands after playing with pets. Wash your hands before eating food-not after (fa’a Samoa). When you shake hands with someone chances are is that one of those has not washed their hands after going to the toilet.
Talking about the deficiencies I found in the great majority of the restaurants, the Vaitele new market did not have hot water or toilets items such as soap and toilet paper. The impact of this deficiency will affect the health of the consumers that not only buy produce there but also those who eat at the restaurant.
Foods that require considerable food handling during preparation are kept at slightly elevated temperature after preparation (as it would be the case in that restaurant) are frequently involved in staphylococcus poisoning. Personnel hygiene of food handlers is of paramount importance. Managers should avoid at all cost the presence of (in the personnel) acne, boils, touching the nose by those who process food, sneezing over food. They should watch the preparation of salads (egg, tuna, potatoes) cream filled pastries, cream pies, sandwich filling, etc.
FDA in publishing the food code added in the 1999 Food Code a section entitled: “Preventing Contamination from Hands” ; FDA believes that the considerable number of illness transmitted by food workers contamination of food demand vigorous intervention measures. Watch cooks and chefs with long fingernails are more likely to pass food bugs such as E, coli to consumers. Even after thoroughly wash E.coli remain under nails and pass to their consumers 90% of bacteria on hands could be found under fingernails. Keep nails short, Right now. Beware! A new strain of E. coli is causing havoc in Europe.
THE TWO-HOUR RULE
It says: “discard all perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, rice, and fresh vegetables, etc, left at room temperature longer than 2 hours”.
To keep hot food safe keep them at 1400F (600C) or above. Cold food must be kept at 40oF (4.40C) or below. Bacteria grow rapidly between 400F and 1400F (4.40C and 600C).
Bear this in mind just 1 bacteria double in number every 20 minutes and can grow over 2,097,152 bacteria in 7 hours flat! O
nce food is cooked, it should be held hot at an internal temperature of 1400F or above, Just keeping food warm is not safe. Better yet use a food thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of your food.
Cleanliness is a major factor in preventing food borne illnesses!
THE HAND WASHING TECHNIQUE
The great majority of people do not know how to wash their hands (except surgeons, of course)
In effect 31% of men and 17% of women (USA) do not wash their hands after going to the toilet. This bad habit vastly increases the risk of food poisoning. Moreover, transfer of germs from toilet to plates because they do not wash their hand before preparing food.
Now to the point of how to wash your hands- the proper way- the only way.
There are three components:
• Proper protocol
• Use of an appropriate hand washing cleaning agent
According to the American Society of Microbiological testing the proper protocol is as follow:
“WET HANDS UNDER WARM WATER (100 -1080F) (37.70C to 42.20C) APPLY 3 ML OF HAND WASHING PRODUCT, RUB VIGOROUSLY OVER ALL HAND SURFACES, CONCENTRATIING ON INTER DIGITAL SPACES AND NAILS, APPLY A SMALL AMOUNT OF WATER AN LATHER FOR 15 SECONDS, RINSE FOR 30 SECONDFS, DRY WITH A CLEAN PAPER TOWEL”
Hand washing product. Use soap that has antiseptic agent- antimicrobial products that is needed for the removal of transient and resident flora.
The irony is that while we spend hours in from of the idiot’s tube, we can’t spend 15 seconds scrubbing our hand; that means so much to our health. A pause here: one second is when you say, mentally, one thousand and one. To make sure say it in English. And continue one thousand and two and so on until you reach one thousand and fifteen.
USE OF GLOVES
The use of gloves does not replace hand washing, especially since bacteria and virus leak thru the gloves. If using gloves use and intact vinyl or latex glove well fitted. It is recommended to wash your hands after gloves removal. i.e. if gloves are going to be used wash hands for 20 seconds before putting the gloves on and another 20 seconds immediately after removing the gloves,; because the skin inside the gloves become hot and moist and the resident skin microorganisms multiply to high levels underneath the gloves.
Ben Chapman, Ph.D. student at the University of Guelph, Canada says: simple things like controlling water sources and having permanent clean bathroom facilities can help prevent bacteria from getting in our food supply. Especially an increasing number of outbreaks linked to produce. Foreign grown produce bring new types of bacteria and food borne illnesses.
Under our current system, are the food suppliers and retailers conducting quality checks and taking other measures to ensure the food they bring into the country is safe? Hardly so. Hello Quarantine?
All fresh produce bears some risk of becoming contaminated with bacteria. It is our duty to identify fruit and vegetables that have high risk of contamination-like tomatoes.
THE NEW FOOD MARKET AT VAITELE
First and foremost this new food produce market/restaurant at Vaitele and other that will be established elsewhere in the future (in fact my prediction was good. Now we have the new Fugalei market) must be guided by scientific principles of food and personnel hygienic handling.
Remember hot water for the purpose of handling fruit and vegetables, as well as, the food preparation in the restaurant must be the first priority of management. Anything else is secondary.
The health of the customers is at stake; whenever unsanitary practices get hold of the daily operations; Good hygienic practice must be inculcated and practiced by all personnel dealing with the public on daily basis.
Entrance to the toilet facilities – by both sexes must not be exposed to the public view. I.e. a wall in front of both entrances has to be built; the same rule goes for any public toilet in town. Like at Savalalo.
Finally, it is tacitly understood that the lavatories for both sexes must have at all times a ready and continuous supply of running hot water, a hand washing cleaning agent and toilet paper. Their absence will send a clear signal of unsanitary condition in all areas of the establishment. A clean town must have clean toilet facilities. Of course, what goes for the public toilets must apply for lavatories at the government and other public buildings around town. In fact, I have detected the absence of toilet paper in at least 4 ministries, a good indication that there no toilet paper in the rest of them. Does BYOTP apply there?
Naturally, all the existing lavatories must be kept clean on a daily basis!
Let us remind ourselves that the purpose of any business is not to make money, but to satisfy the customer. Dr. Paul Samulon, Nobel Prize in Economics said: “The customer, so it is said is the king.”
Note. A comment by WIW (Wendy in Wonder) about MOH’s “food inspectors” checking McDonals’ prompted me to pull from my files this (revised) enlightening article about food safety in Samoa.) Thanks WIW.
*Orlando Huaman is a Food Technologist. Malololelei.